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Should you buy a Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 phone?
Performance enthusiasts have been quite disappointed (rightly so) in this year’s best flagship smartphones. High-end 2022 smartphones powered by premium silicon from Samsung and Qualcomm run hot, resulting in problems ranging from overly warm devices to throttling and poor sustained gaming performance. The common thread is that affected chipsets have been manufactured on Samsung Semiconductor’s 4nm node.
Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 was built on Samsung’s 4nm node, but its Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 refresh is manufactured on TSMC’s 4nm rival. Although mid-year chip refreshes are now the norm, moving manufacturer mid-cycle is a first and one that leads us to suspect Qualcomm wasn’t impressed with the state of its Samsung-produced chip. We know we certainly haven’t been. Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 handsets have, predominantly, handed in benchmark scores closer to last year’s Snapdragon 888 and, by and large, struggled with excess heat and sustained performance under more rigorous testing.
With Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 handsets now hitting the market, complete with 10% clock speed improvements and up to 30% efficiency gains, we’ve had the opportunity to test a handful of them to help draw some conclusions about the state of 4nm manufacturing. Let’s dive right into some graphs to highlight the key differences.
Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 vs 8 Gen 1 benchmarks
Our first taste of the improved performance of the Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 came with the Asus Zenfone 9 and gaming-oriented ROG Phone 6. Both out-performed the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 handsets we tested earlier in the year. In terms of benchmarks, the Plus variant’s results are much more in-line with what we initially expected following the 8 Gen 1’s announcement last year. The superior cooling in the ROG Phone 6 finally offered sustained gaming performance that consumers would expect from a top-tier chip as well.
Even so, the results from the graph above show there’s still some hesitation in letting the new chip run flat out, just like there was with the original 8 Gen 1. Asus’ “Dynamic” performance mode is conservative on clock speeds in mixed workload tests, even with its powerhouse ROG Phone 6 gaming handset. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with optimizing for battery longevity, but it highlights a growing gap between peak performance and what consumers should expect on a day-to-day basis.
8 Plus Gen 1 phones top our benchmarks, but mostly with performance modes enabled.
The OnePlus 10T showcases the same trend, with the chip’s maximum performance only available through performance mode. Out of the box, we’re looking at more conservative results, particularly in longer workloads from PCMark’s test. Still, there’s a much bigger uplift potential than the OnePlus 10 Pro, which doesn’t move the needle as far with performance mode engaged, highlighting the chip’s eagerness to throttle. In other words, the Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 reaches a higher peak performance level than the 10% clock speed boost suggests on its own, but the phones we’ve tested are still keeping this maximum performance in check unless specifically requested. The exception is the 3DMark graphics test, which sees the same scores with performance modes on and off (hence why we haven’t included two sets of results).
Overall, snapshot benchmarks show that Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 finally reaches its full potential, but that potential still chugs down more battery than many manufacturers seem willing to allow.
Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 vs 8 Gen 1 stress test
This is already quite interesting, but without a more apples-to-apples handset comparison, it’s not crystal clear how much of these performance differences come down to the chip or the handset manufacturer’s implementation. Fortunately, we’ve grabbed the latest OnePlus 10T and the OnePlus 10 Pro and run them through 3DMark’s Wildlife Stress Test in both regular and Unlimited modes.
By picking two flagship phones from the same manufacturer, we’re limiting the prospect of different performance targets as a factor but still seeing the perspective of real devices. Meanwhile, the offscreen Unlimited test removes what’s left of resolution scaling and other factors to compare SoC to SoC. We’re not using performance mode here, as we want to see how the chips perform within sensible thermal limits rather than with flat-out no regard to temperature or power. Here we go:
The results above speak for themselves — the Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 handset can run at a higher performance level for longer than the original variant regardless of which version of the test we look at.
The standard stress test shows the worst-case scenario, OnePlus’ 10T sees performance dip to just 91% of its maximum over 20 test runs, while the 10 Pro flops to 62% of its peak potential. Furthermore, the latter barely survives three runs (about three minutes) before throttling back performance, spending the majority of the test running in a throttled state. Equally noteworthy are the handset’s temperatures. Both models maxed out at virtually the same temperature, 45°C for the OnePlus 10T (8 Plus Gen 1) and 44°C for the OnePlus 10 Pro (8 Gen 1). So both chips can still run hot, but there’s clearly less clock and power throttling required to keep the Plus model within its temperature constraints.
The 8 Plus Gen 1 version is finally able to sustain peak performance.
The Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 performs better for longer in the offscreen test but eventually suffers a similar performance deficit. Meanwhile, the Plus model in the 10T survives with 95% of its best score by the end of the test. Other handsets we’ve tested conform to the trend of the Plus variant out-sustaining the original chip. Even the ultra-compact Asus Zenfone 9 hands in marginally better-sustained performance than the much larger and presumably better heat-dissipating Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra and Sony Xperia 1 IV. Both of which fall flat after just a few minutes of testing.
Should you buy a Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 phone?
The conclusion is clear then: The Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 is the notably superior chip. Look past the clock speed increases, it’s the touted efficiency gains from moving over to TSMC’s 4nm process that have freed the chip to finally run at the potential Qualcomm promised us back in December 2021. The jury is still out on what impact the new silicon will have on handset battery life, but based on our benchmark session today, the outlook is positive.
This leaves Samsung Semiconductor with some serious thinking to do, having lost one of its biggest customers to its biggest rival. Based on the evidence here and elsewhere, it seems virtually irrefutable that 4nm has proven to be a bit of a disaster for Samsung. It’s just unfortunate that it’s taken until mid-way through the year for us to confirm what we have suspected for months. The good news is that the 8 Plus Gen 1 exists and is already powering a number of handsets. Time will tell if Samsung can recover in time for the 3nm chipsets expected in 2023.
Performance enthusiasts will certainly prefer the 8 Plus Gen 1, but the chip isn't the only factor in a great phone.
So, should you buy a Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 phone over one sporting the non-Plus silicon? That obviously depends on what you need from the rest of the package. It would be wrong of us to say that phones already sporting the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 are outright bad or poor performing; that certainly isn’t true. These handsets are more than well equipped for day-to-day tasks, and most will handle moderate gaming sessions just fine as well.
However, if you’re after the best chip for peak burst and sustainable performance, better battery life, and a cooler handset, there’s no question that the 8 Plus Gen 1 does a better job than its predecessor. When it comes to extreme gaming, there’s no doubt that the new model is the chip to go for.